5 December 2012

Dear Madam Secretary, 

            On the occasion of your visit to Ireland this week, as part of which you will deliver an address at Dublin City University on the theme of human rights, we would like to take this opportunity to express our deep concern at what Human Rights Watch last month described as an “urgent gap in women’s human rights” in Ireland. The failure of seven successive Irish governments to legislate for the constitutional right of women in Ireland to have access to safe and legal abortion when their lives are at risk has resulted in ongoing and unacceptable danger for pregnant women in the country. This danger was tragically highlighted last month by the death in an Irish hospital of a young Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar. As Irish citizens, as members of the Irish diaspora in the United States, and as citizens of the US and elsewhere who wish to express solidarity with women in Ireland, we respectfully ask that, as you meet with the Irish government, and as you speak at DCU, you bear in mind this extremely serious gap in Irish law which constitutes a clear violation of basic human rights. 

            The situation to which we refer is a consequence of the unwillingness of Irish governments to introduce legislation giving force to the Irish Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in the X case, which stated that a woman is entitled to an abortion when a continued pregnancy would pose a real and substantial threat to her life. A 2010 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C case further found Ireland to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to implement procedures which would allow a woman to establish her right to an abortion within Ireland. The Court also noted that the criminal provisions enshrined in the current law, which dates from 1861, constituted a “chilling factor” for women and medical professionals. 

            Savita Halappanavar died in University Hospital Galway on October 28th, having been admitted whilst suffering a miscarriage one week previously. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, has stated that her request for a termination was refused by hospital staff, with one doctor invoking the reasoning that Ireland was “a Catholic country”. After an agonizing three-day miscarriage, Savita was found to have contracted septicemia and E-Coli, and died three days later. 

            Savita’s death has provoked a mass outpouring of grief and anger from those who believe that a termination may have saved her life and, more crucially, that the lives of pregnant women in Ireland must be protected by clear legislation for the twenty-year-old X case ruling. Organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as the UN’s Committee Against Torture have stated that there is an urgent need for domestic legislation in line with international human rights principles, including the very clear ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. The government recently informed the Council of Europe that it plans to take a decision on how to implement the judgment of the Court by December 20th, after the Irish Parliament has debated a report by an Expert Group established to examine this issue. We hope that both the debate and the government’s decision will be based on Ireland’s human rights obligations including its obligations on women’s rights, and that it will be followed by swift implementation. 

            Otherwise, Ireland will continue to be in clear violation of its international obligations on human rights, despite having committed, during its recent successful campaign for membership of the UN Human Rights Council, to the full promotion of such rights in its domestic policy. Deeming this to be a matter of urgent concern both on an Irish and international scale, we would ask, Madam Secretary, that you might consider addressing this very real and present danger to the lives and health of pregnant women during your visit to Ireland this week. The Irish government must take the right decision to protect the rights of women in Ireland, and it should do so without further delay. 

            Yours sincerely, 

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SECOND OPINION: At last women who give birth in Irish hospitals may have at least one of their human rights respected and vindicated. The Report of the Expert group on the Judgment in A, B and C v Ireland says that legislation to regulate access to lawful termination of pregnancy in Ireland is “constitutionally, legally and procedurally sound”.

The State must “provide effective and accessible procedures to establish a woman’s right to an abortion as well as access to such treatment”.

Maternal mortality rates are often quoted by anti-abortion campaigners to show that new legislation is not needed because Ireland’s maternity services are among the best in the world. These rates are meaningless when used to support an anti-abortion stance.

A 2012 analysis of maternal mortality in European perinatal health surveillance systems, including Ireland, shows that current data are insufficient for comparison between countries, because the tiny numbers and statistical variability from year to year are difficult to interpret.

Read full article by JACKY JONES here
Praveen Halapanavar is to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights - saying his right to a full public inquiry is being ignored.

The family of Savita Halappanavar’s had earlier warned the Governement they would make such an application if they didn't agree to a full public inquiry into the circumstances of her death by today.

Separate inquiries by the HSE and the Health Information and Quality Authority are to proceed.

Gerard O'Donnell is the solicitor for Mr Halappanavar:


The expert group report on abortion arose from a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in 2005 by three women, alleging that restrictions on abortion in Ireland were in breach of their human rights.

One of the women was in acute distress. She lived in poverty and had four children already, all of whom were in care. She was attempting to reunite her family when she became pregnant accidentally. She felt she could not possibly cope with a fifth child, nor with the pregnancy. She could not get an abortion in Ireland, where, irrespective of her circumstances, she risked penal servitude for life. She went to Britain, where she had an abortion.

Another of the three women had been in treatment for cancer for three years and she too became pregnant unintentionally. Medical tests were contraindicated during the early stage of her pregnancy. She was unable to get clear medical advice and feared that her pregnancy would lead to a recurrence of her cancer. She, too, felt obliged to go to Britain for an abortion. The third case was less clear-cut.

The third and first cases were dismissed on technical grounds but on the case concerning the woman with cancer, it was found that the absence of clear guidelines in Ireland for when abortion was permissible was a breach of human rights. It was this ruling which led to the expert group report published yesterday.

Full article by Vincent Browne here

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

My objective during this visit has been to evaluate the situation of human rights defenders in the country.  Defenders are those who promote and defend human rights in a peaceful manner. The following statement contains my preliminary findings and recommendations. I will present my final report at the 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in March 2013.


Defenders and activists working on sexual and reproductive health
The situation and challenges faced by those defenders working on sexual and reproductive rights, particularly those providing information to women about abortion has come to my attention during the visit. Ireland has one of the most restrictive laws in Europe regarding the termination of pregnancies whereby abortion is considered a crime in constitutional and criminal law, and where women could be punished with life-term prison sentences. To date, no convictions have been made under the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861.

The 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the case known as “X” case provided guidance on how to interpret the existing constitutional right to abortion under article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. The European Court of Human Rights in 2010 (“ABC” case) has stated that Ireland violated the right to privacy of a woman when not allowing a lawful abortion and requested a more effective procedure regarding requirements to be met to qualify for legal termination of pregnancy. Both decisions are still to be implemented which means that currently no legislation or regulatory framework exists which defines whether or not a woman is entitled to have access to legal abortion. I was assured by high ranking Government officials that the outcome of the Expert Group set up to advice the Government on how to tackle this issue would be made public very shortly.  This is particularly pressing given the tragic death of Ms. Savita Halappanavar after doctors allegedly refused a termination of her pregnancy last month.

Moreover, I am concerned at reports and evidence received indicating the existence of a smear campaign and stigmatisation of those advocating for the reproductive rights of women by the part of vested interest groups using printed media.